Madeleine McCann: latest searches in Portugal appear to end
The parents of Madeleine McCann face a tense wait for the results of the search for their daughter at a reservoir in the Algarve, as a retired Portuguese detective who previously led on the case claimed that it was a sham and waste of resources.
German prosecutor Christian Wolters, whose force requested the operation, said there would be a period of silence in the event of significant evidence being discovered during the three-day excavation at the remote Barragem do Arade reservoir.
In a statement, Wolters said that as “the accused has not yet had access to the files”, the authorities would not yet publish any new evidence that might implicate Christian Brückner, a convicted rapist who is the prime suspect in Madeleine’s disappearance.
The joint Portuguese and German operation, in which the Metropolitan police had an observing role, was the biggest search for a decade into the then three-year-old’s disappearance on 4 May 2007 and followed the German police’s claim that they believe she is dead and that Brückner, 45, was responsible.
The operation had been due to end on Tuesday but it had taken an additional day to complete the planned work. Wolters said they had a search warrant for a “specific area” and the area had “to be searched in its entirety”.
He said: “If we don’t find anything, we will certainly tell you quickly.” There was no further statement on Thursday.
Wooded land was cleared, shrubland raked and small digs undertaken during the operation, during which several bags of material were removed from the remote location, 30 miles from where Madeleine went missing from her parent’s holiday apartment in the town of Praia da Luz 16 years ago.
As the investigation, on a section of land jutting into the reservoir, came to a close, the former Portuguese detective Gonçalo Amaral, who successfully fought a defamation case in 2016 after claiming Madeleine died in her parents’ holiday apartment, predicted it would come to nothing.
“In a simple analysis I see there is no new investigation and what is occurring is more a case of constructing a profile and a scapegoat,” he said. Amaral, who led the botched police search in 2007, lost a libel battle with lawyers representing Kate and Gerry McCann after publication of his book but he subsequently had the result overturned on appeal.
The German police have not commented publicly on the reasons for their search after so many years but it has been suggested that photographs found in 2016 had provided evidence that Brückner had regularly visited the reservoir which he is said to have described as “my little paradise”.
German police have only said that “indications” and “tips” had led to the operation although they have been keen to emphasise that Brückner had not confessed nor offered any help as they swept the area.
Brückner, who was jailed in 2019 for the rape of a 72-year-old American tourist a mile from the McCanns’ holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, was officially named by the Portuguese police as a suspect, or arguido, last year in the disappearance of the British child. His mobile phone had been located in the immediate area of the Mark Warner Oceans resort where the McCanns had been staying on the day of Madeleine’s disappearance. He has not been charged with any offence in relation to the Madeleine case, and has denied any involvement.
Last month, a German court said it was cancelling a sexual offences trial against Brückner on charges unrelated to McCann’s disappearance but which were also said to have taken place in Portugal, on the grounds that the region where it is located is not the last place he lived in Germany.
He had been facing prosecution in Braunschweig over three offences of aggravated rape of women and two offences of sexual abuse of children. The alleged offences took place in Portugal between December 2000 and July 2017. The force in Braunschweig is challenging the ruling.
Mark Hofmann, a criminal profiler in Germany, said Brückner, who is currently serving a seven year prison sentence, had a history of keeping “trophies” from his crimes. He said: “From chat histories with like-minded people and from other crimes it is known that Christian B tends to do exactly this: documenting his crimes.
“Of course, laptops, memory cards, video and photo cameras play an important role here. USB sticks with tons of material were already found in a plastic bag in the ground, under his dead dog. Some have argued that he ‘buried the videos’ because he wanted to close this brutal chapter.
“I disagree. He could have simply deleted the videos. Burying them in a plastic bag in the ground gives him a chance to come back to them later. As difficult as it may be to understand, from his point of view, these acts are ‘pleasant memories’ that he is therefore documenting. But that could now be his downfall.”
The scene of the search remained sealed off from the media on Thursday.